To lead in degrees, focus on two-year credentials

If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates — President Obama’s goal — it must increase associate degree holders, concludes Getting Back on Top, a report by Jim Hull, senior policy analyst at the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education. That will require a national focus on enrollment and success in community colleges and trade schools.

Currently the U.S. ranks second only to Norway (35 percent) in the percentage of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or better at 32 percent. However, America is outranked by most countries when it comes to two-year degree graduates, tying for 18th with the United Kingdom and Germany at 10 percent.

Overall, the U.S. ranks fifth in the world in adults with degrees at 42 percent when not differentiating between two- and four-year colleges — behind Russia (54 percent), Canada (51 percent), Israel (46 percent) and Japan (45 percent).

When it comes to young adults ages 25 to 34, the U.S. is falling behind other countries, which are producing more young two- and four-year graduates.

“If we can double the 10-percent two-year degree rate to get to a 20, 25 percent rate, we will be up there in total college attainment rate, which will have a significant impact not only on college rankings,” Hull said.

It’s not just a matter of bragging rights, of course.  Many jobs now require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.